COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Head coach Gary Blair and members of the 14th-ranked Texas A&M women’s basketball team met with members of the media today to talk about tomorrow’s game against Arkansas in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
As the No. 3 seed in the Raleigh Regional, the Aggies advanced to the second round for the sixth straight season and face Arkansas on Monday, March 19 at the Reed Arena. Tipoff between the Aggies and the Razorbacks is set for 8:30 p.m. (CT) on ESPN2.
MARCH 18, 2012
SECOND ROUND NEWS CONFERENCE QUOTES
TEXAS A&M – HEAD COACH GARY BLAIR, SENIOR SYDNEY CARTER, SENIOR ADAORA ELONU, JUNIOR KELSEY BONE
Can you talk about their defense? Tom bases a lot of things on defense, what makes them so good defensively?
I don’t believe we have faced anybody that plays on-ball defense as well as they do. Full court, turn it into the half court, whether they’re converting from the 2-2-1 back to man, their on-ball defense on the guards is very good. Only team you could say that would be very similar would be Baylor. They have the long reach, the athleticism, but they have the home base with (Brittney) Griner. We’ll have to see. We have to handle the ball a little better than we did. Fifteen turnovers against the zone was not very effective last night. Ball handling is going to be a must for both teams. Both teams are going to have press breaker. Both teams are going to have a point guard who wants the ball in key situations instead of always giving it to somebody else to do their job. Both teams are going to have to rely on their point guards to set the point of their offense and get it down to where they have 20 seconds to run an offense instead of 14 or 15 seconds.
Collen commented that your team has added pressure by being the defending champs.
Tom is setting it up. I mean that’s Tom. Only thing I know I can do is I can beat Tom on the golf course. Defending National Champions playing at home, hey, we’re not being given the respect card because I don’t think we’ve earned it yet. We’ve got to earn it to get the commentators to start talking about, to get people to fear our defense or fear our transition offense, which nobody fears right now. We’ve still got to get it done on a consistent basis. We’ve been good at times. We’ve been very good at times and we’ve been bad at times. The consistency has not been there. I like the way we started the ball game with our energy but our execution was not very good yesterday. Tom hit a home run last night. Fifth year of a five-year contract. I did it at Arkansas in the fifth year of a five-year contract. I like his team. I like his bench. When he can run (Quistelle)Williams and (Calli) Berna and (Keira) Peak off, that’s eight very good players. I think his bench helped win that ball game big time yesterday and kept him in the ball game in the first half. Berna didn’t really even light it up yet, but she’s that capable, just like (Alexia) Standish is for us. She’s that good of a freshman, three-point shooter, good solid player. But at the same time, my bench has got to counter their bench. That’s (Skylar) Collins, that’s (Kelsey) Assarian, that’s (Karla) Gilbert, that’s (Adrienne) Pratcher. If I go four-deep, that’s the four that would come in the quickest for me. We can’t lose that battle on the bench. We’ve got to be able to win that thing and win a couple of those battles at the starting position. Tom knows what he’s doing; he’s a veteran coach. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time I’ve ever had the chance to face a former assistant coach as a head coach. I believe that’s right. I could be wrong. But I’m looking forward to the matchup. I’m looking forward to the start of the SEC rivalry. But right now we’re a Big 12 school and we’re very proud of the Big 12 right now, so we want to hold court right here in the Big 12.
Talk about the post play, maybe some of the inconsistency in your team. I’m thinking you’re going to have to have more from your posts tomorrow night.
That depends on if Arkansas plays us man or zone. If they play us man, we have a better chance of getting some isolation down there. But they’re very quick. (Ashley) Daniels in particular can really come through. If she’s going to play three-quarter high, they were coming through the Dayton post and slapping the ball away. That’s just very quick. If they play zone, (Sarah) Watkins is pretty good in there. Physicality, we’re physical on our style of play, but right now we feel like the 98-pound weakling when you have 23 offensive boards put on you last night. And we just got finished coming in here seeing all 23 of them. Our post players got our butts kicked, and Tyra (White) with blocking out. And our ones and twos were no factor at all in the ball game in rebounding. If we do not do a better job of rebounding the ball, blocking out and attacking the boards, not hoping the ball bounces to us, it’s going to be a long night. Because I promise you Arkansas is a whole lot more physical than Albany and a whole lot more physical than the majority of the teams we see in the Big 12. So we have to do a better job of wining those 50-50 balls and loose balls and getting the rebound. Because I think it’s going to be a defensive game. I think the first team to score 60-62 points might win this thing tomorrow.
What does it mean to you to be facing Arkansas for the first time after all the success you had there?
I’m happy for Tom Collen. He’s a close friend, a good friend, I’m happy for Amber Shirey who coached with me. All of our staffs intertwine. All of us have coached on their staff, Tom and Amber. Tari Cummings their other assistant, I recruited her hard out of junior college. I lost her to Oklahoma State. The other guy I don’t know that much. But the seven of us are all intertwined. Nicki (Collen) was intertwined because she played for Marquette for Jim Jabir. But that’s what you have particularly when you have veteran coaches like Tom and I. Getting a chance to play Arkansas, I would’ve loved to play Arkansas two or three years ago when they were rebuilding, because I thought by far we had the better talent. The talent level has closed. Now it’s about who’s going to be prepared, who can execute, who can play the better defense without getting into foul trouble and how the game is going to be called. Getting a chance to go back and play at Arkansas, that’s going to be interesting for me, but I’m really more interested in just advancing. I would rather have played Dayton to tell the truth, because it would haven taken the story line away from the NCAA committee. They’re the ones that put us together, just like they’re putting Louisville and Maryland together and they’re putting Kansas and Nebraska together. That’s the committee wanting a story line instead of maybe putting people where they should be. But that’s what our game needs right now to put people in the seats. I love our crowd. Correct me if I’m wrong, but our crowd was the largest one yesterday. Can you believe Iowa State only had 4900? Those were true fans. There was no build up at all, because we have to pay for every single one of those tickets. But I love my crowd. Now I want to put 9,000 to 10,000 in there for Monday night.
Touch on the environment that you’re expecting Monday night and what that means for basketball?
I think it’s going to be the biggest basketball game that’s been played here in a long long time. I think our students will come out from the woodwork and they’ll get on board. Hopefully we will get something in the newspaper tomorrow. They’ve been on spring break, too, so they’re on their way back from Fort Lauderdale, Corpus, whatever. But hopefully there’s a paper tomorrow that we can get people out. I think the atmosphere will be electric. I think you can go back to some of the Big 12 men’s games we had here when Texas has been in or Kansas or when we played Baylor on the women’s side. The same thing’s going to happen. It’s going to be 99 percent A&M crowd and one percent Arkansas crowd, because there’s not that many people travelling from Razorback land down here. Their spring break is next week.
Can you tell us how Tyra is feeling today? Is her foot okay?
You score 18 points, and we pulled her out at the right time, rested her the last six or seven minutes. I only gave her one rest in the first half. She’s fine, ready to go, and if she’s fine, I’m fine. She’s ready to go. We’re not going to kill her out there in practice today.
Do you think that there is still a national perception that you guys are still one-hit wonder?
I promise you I’m not a one-hit wonder. I’ve been around a long time. That’s part of it. And everybody, we have played the schedule. We played such a hard schedule that we’ve taken a few losses where instead of having six or seven losses, we’ve got 10 losses just due to who we’ve played, and the best team in the country is in our conference. That’s three right there. Notre Dame used to always have to face that losing three times a year, but now they’re not losing right now to Connecticut. But we can whine all we want about sometimes the limited coverage, but we have tremendous coverage in the state of Texas right here with all you guys that are here. Our coverage regionally and locally and Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Dallas has been tremendous. Arkansas will give us great coverage because that’s what they do there. They really do a great job with their newspaper and television coverage on covering Razorback athletics. The winner of this ball game I really believe has a great chance in Raleigh. Whether it’s us or Arkansas, I believe we really have a good chance because both of us are going to have to give 40 minutes of hell. It’s fixing to be that out there where both teams are going to lay it on the line and we’re going to go after it. It’s going to be fun. I wish I could suit up, but that would be advantage Arkansas, so I’m not going to do that.
Some say that you teams are similar. Do you see the similarities x’s and o’s wise between you and Arkansas?
I think a little bit. When you coach together for four years, I know when Schaefer goes to Mississippi State, he says he’ll change everything up. Nuh-uh. He’ll be running a lot of my stuff that I run, and I’ll be running a lot of stuff on defense that he runs. Tom and I are similar in a lot of our sets that we like to do. Just our thinking of game management. You noticed Tom during the first half when they were down by 15, did not get flustered. He’s a lot more low-key than I am. I probably would’ve been going bananas over there. He’s a lot more low key than me. But other than that, we’re both junkies of the game. We know the game, we know the history of the game. We’re very proud of what we’ve done. He’s done it now at Purdue as an assistant coach, at Arkansas as an assistant coach, Colorado State as a head coach with Becky Hammond if some of you do not know, that’s San Antonio Spurs with Angel McCoughtry at Louisville. Now he’s doing it at Arkansas, not with a lot of household names but kids who we built our program with at A&M. With the Watkins, the Ricketts, the Harrises. Those sound a lot like our team. Those were not McDonald’s All-Americans. Those were just kids who were made into very good players. Tom has done the coaching, and he’s done a great job of bringing his wife onto his team. She was a heck of a player and a heck of a coach before she took off six years to have three kids.
They’re showing a lot of your highlights on ESPN of your win over Baylor.
They should be highlights. Why shouldn’t you talk about whoever the defending National Champion is with a field of 64 years? Miss America gets to wear her crown for a doggone year, and you’ve got to hold that crown and keep going. We’ve been treated by the press fairly all year. I’ve got no complaints there. It’s time for us to live up to it. This will not be a good season if we do not advance and get to the next round. We’ve got higher expectations then just playing a one and done right here. Someone asked me on the side, I said no it will not be a successful season unless we’re able to hold court and advance to the next round. Playing in front of our fans on our court, we’re supposed to get the job done.
Talk about your senior class and the impact they’ve made.
Each class is more important. I did not know until I read in somebody’s article that Adaora Elonu has now set the record in playing in the most games, 139 in her four-year career. That means you’re playing in a lot of playoff games. She’s the quietest kid we have on the team, but I’d like to see that number high in the 140s before she hangs it up. This class has probably been the most low maintenance class we’ve had. There’s no problems. When you have three kids that graduate in three years, and then you have two others that will walk the stage in May. You have no problems with those five off the court. It’s been a pleasure to coach them. It’s been a pleasure to turn them back to their parents. We’ve turned them into good Aggie women. They’re going to be able to sing our praises, and we’re going to be able to sing our praises for a number of years. It’s just been fun to coach them. Y’all don’t understand that there is drama sometimes in women’s basketball. There’s drama out there. With those five, there’s no drama. They’re just good kids and good Aggies, and I’m happy for them. We’ve got to find a way tomorrow to get Kelsey Bone off to a good start. That was about as poor of a start as a starting post player can have yesterday. I’ve got to get her off to a good start. When she gets off to a good start, the confidence goes sky high; she thinks she’s Superman out there. That’s what I want her to feel. And thank heavens she’s not a senior because she’s got a lot of basketball and a lot of improving in front of her. That’s going to be the key to the ball game tomorrow, how is Kelsey Bone going to play tomorrow. I always have Gilbert I can put in, but we need Bone to play at a higher level than she did yesterday.
JUNIOR CENTER KELSEY BONE
Do you see playing Arkansas as a preview of playing in the SEC next year?
“Definitely, it’s an SEC team and we are going to be able to see what we are going to be playing night in and night out in the SEC. It is a very athletic conference, and Arkansas is athletic at every position. I think it is going to be a good preview of what to expect next year.”
What are you going to do to do better in the paint than last night?
“It’s going to be very important for us tomorrow night. I think last night we let their size and their zone and their plans to double and triple team us affect us a little bit on scoring. It’s going to be up to us to play better. It’s not anything we didn’t see all year, and it’s going to be our job to perform in the post and to finish to give our team a chance to win tomorrow night.”
How much more comfortable are you going to be tomorrow night now that you have the first game of the tournament out of the way?
“I will probably be more comfortable. I have to admit last night I was really nervous because it was my first tournament game. I called my mom last night after the game and told her ‘I’m glad I got that out of the way.’ In order for us to have a chance tomorrow, I’m going to have to deliver so we can get the win.”
SENIOR GUARD SYDNEY CARTER
On Arkansas’ athleticism
“I don’t think we’ve seen anybody this year that’s as athletic as Arkansas. Coach Blair said they may be more athletic than we are and we are pretty athletic, so it’s going to be a challenge and I think the team that is going to come out on top is the one that attacks with more aggression.”
On playing Coach Blair’s old team
“He’s definitely brought it up, and I think as players it’s a pride thing that you don’t want your coach to go out with a loss to a team he used to coach. We’ve got a lot of pride, and we want to get it done for him.”
On playing the last game at Reed Arena as a senior
“It’s definitely ‘senior night’ for the seniors, and I think that it’s our job to rally the team and let them know it’s our last game at Reed Arena and to come out and play with all you have for us seniors and the coaching staff. It’s the last time for them to coach us on this floor. It’s a special time for us, and we need to embrace that and there’s no better way than to go out with a win.”
Last night Arkansas looked nervous coming into the game. Do you expect to see that tomorrow?
“I think they started the game off a little like we did last night. I think they allowed the other team to get them off their game just like we did. We got a little rattled just like they did, but I think it says a lot about their team when they came back to win in the second half. They are a good team, and they have a lot of chemistry to go along with their athleticism. This is a game of rallies, and you can’t take anything away from them and they answered the call last night.”
SENIOR FORWARD ADAORA ELONU
What kind of options does having Trya White back give you?
“It’s great having her back and having the whole team back together and healthy and able to play. We have several options besides Trya, and everyone is willing to step up.”